As a young artist Georgia O’Keeffe often chafed at others’ expectations of her and the art she was then creating. She had little interest in painting only those subjects deemed suitable for women. Instead she experimented boldly with abstraction and immersed herself in the hothouse of American modernism. Fiercely independent, O’Keeffe dressed and acted as she pleased, forging relationships on her own terms, most famously with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Although they married in 1924, O’Keeffe sought space to pursue her art unencumbered by societal expectations. Beginning in 1929, she left New York and her husband nearly every summer to paint in New Mexico and moved there permanently after his death. Inspired by the Southwest landscape, she cultivated one of the most successful artistic careers of the twentieth century. While often living far from urban centers, O’Keeffe attracted many admirers, the majority of whom she sought to keep at a distance, including the photographer Paul Strand, the creator of this 1918 portrait.
Georgia O’Keeffe first traveled to New Mexico in 1929 and moved there permanently in 1949, following the death of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. Although she achieved early success as a modernist painter living in the East, the landscape of the desert Southwest gave O’Keeffe her greatest inspiration. She painted familiar subjects such as flowers, adobe buildings, and objects found on walks around her remote home. Yet she did so in a unique way, often transforming common items into colorful abstractions with an emphasis on form and line. By the late 1940s O’Keeffe was one of the best-known and original artists in America. An admirer once commented that she was like “the unflickering flame of a candle, steady, serene, softly brilliant,” adding that she “faces the world unconcernedly ‘as is.’”
Georgia O’Keeffe joined the ranks of America’s leading modernists in 1916 with her first exhibition at 291, the New York gallery of celebrated photographer and arts impresario Alfred Stieglitz. Inspired by the avant-garde theories of artist and teacher Arthur Wesley Dow—who championed the expressive use of line, color, and tonality—the classically schooled O’Keeffe readily abandoned realism for the creative possibilities of abstraction. Her career flourished under the mentorship of Stieglitz, who introduced the public to her evocative paintings in annual exhibitions from 1923 to 1946. After marrying Stieglitz in 1924, O’Keeffe maintained a strong level of personal and artistic independence. Beginning in 1929, she lived and worked for extended periods in New Mexico, where she settled permanently after Stieglitz’s death in 1946. It was there that she created many of her most iconic works.
O’Keeffe’s austere adobe home in Abiquiu, New Mexico, provided the setting for Karsh’s profile study of the artist.
Jesús Moroles, born Corpus Christi, TX 1950-died Jarrell, TX 2015
Georgia gray granite
82 x 12 1/4 x 8 in. (208.3 x 31.1 x 20.3 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist
In April 1999, Jesús Moroles brought the unfinished Georgia Stele to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He uncovered the sculpture and began to hammer stone chips off of the top, encouraging visitors to join in. Moroles then removed a few more and declared the piece finished, stating that if another chip were removed the sculpture would be a total loss and could never be repaired. This unexpected performance demonstrated Moroles's belief that sculptures are sacred objects that should belong to all people, and not just the artist or a museum. Nevertheless, he claimed creative ownership over the work by declaring that the work was done and could no longer be altered.
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Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service